The waiter at the bar sticks a sparkler into yet another bottle of champagne and hits a siren mounted behind the bar to draw everyone’s attention to the sleek Nigerian businessmen who ordered it. Oil traders, sports stars and politicians’ children grind to a hip-hop beat, flaunting their success at champagne bars.
Not so long ago, one could have counted the number of champagne bars in Lagos on the fingers of one’s hand as most bars generalised their offerings from wines, spirits, cognac and even soft. There was the Club at Sheraton Hotels, Ikeja, the poolside bar at Eko Hotel & Suites, and -em, -em, not a lot else. For champagne lovers, this was a bit odd, not least because the economy was going gangbuster, as were retail sales of the world’s most fashionable and luxurious liquid – champagne.
Then, just as the worst global downturn in decades rolled in, a premier crew of champagne bars popped up all over the Lagos metropolis to serve the needs of champagne aficionados and to encourage a whole lot to do the cork-popping ritual of champagne in befitting bars. These bars still woo Nigeria’s big spenders to make flamboyant splash and, most importantly, flaunt their success with choice champagne, but in the most convivial and respectful manner.
One of the foremost champagne clubs in the metropolis is Saipan Bar on Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Victoria Island. Since it opened its doors many years ago, it has grown from strength to strength. It is a one-stop shop bar for all dining and evening recreational needs. The restaurant accommodates 110 people conveniently while the VIP champagne bar accommodates 60 people. The club is open every day and can be hired exclusively. The bar has also undergone extensive renovation to produce the ultimate lounge experience with top line entertainment such as jazz, blues, salsa, live music.
Casa Del Habano, located in Lagoon Plaza, Victoria Island, Lagos, is another of the bars that are dedicated to champagne and cognac. This bar may not look great from the outside like the longest champagne bar in London, but the inside houses the best cognacs and champagnes in Lagos. Those looking for chic Champagne-style wines, brut, the popular Moet, Dom Pérignon, Laurent-Perrier, among other champagne offerings are getting their feel right in the Lagos Island-based bar.
What is really amazing is that top champagne brands like Moet and Laurent Pierre are customising specific bars for the promotion of their brands which is creating competition among top bars. “Our lounge is already regarded as Lagos hidden secret and it is certainly customer friendly,” says Louis, manager of the Bacchus Bar on Awolowo Road Ikoyi which is now closed down for business. “We want to own the brand and showcase the best range we have in terms of champagne and quality hospitality.”
Therefore, it looks like the bar trend will continue. One might think the competition would have made life even tougher for independent bar owners. However, they have been recording high profits since 2009 in spite of the recession. “85 percent of our revenue comes from champagne,” says Chigozie Okoro, a bar owner. “We are delighted we are doing very well. The key element for us is knowing our customers and adapting to the market conditions as people traded down.”
What has also helped to drive the revenue of champagne bars is the willingness of certain houses to really engage and collaborate on some competitive offers which pulled in the punters.
While business is good for some, for some others it could be dreadful as top Nigerians who patronise them don’t usually pay. Some bars on Victoria Island could be groaning under a heavy cash problem as some top guys who are regular patrons of the bar have formed a habit of always coming around, enjoying their stay with the most expensive champagne and spirits, and when they are through, simply walking out without paying for their drinks. The owners are now complaining loudly. But their dilemma is that the debtors are their friends.
Why the craze for champagne? Champagne lovers do not only flock clubs, some individuals also privately savour the taste of champagne at private parties and for personal consumption at home. For instance, at the birthday bash of Ehime Aikhomu, first son of former Vice President Augustus Aikhomu, champagne and exotic wine were served to guests right from the door. The same could be said of the talk-of-the-town wedding of Mike Adenuga a few years ago where the bottles of champagne served were customised. The case was not different at TuFace’s wedding held in Dubai.
It is not a surprise, therefore, that Euromonitor International in its reports says Nigeria spends an average of N41.40 billion on champagne yearly. According to the report, Nigeria was the second fastest growing market in the world for champagne between 2006 and 2011, with compound annual growth of 22 percent. Total champagne consumption reached 752,879 bottles (75cl) in 2011, which was higher than in Russia or Mexico. This has placed Nigeria among the top 20 champagne markets in the world.
In 2010, Nigeria consumed about 593,000 bottles, the highest consumption in Africa. The closest to this figure was South Africa, another country that has been identified as an emerging market for luxury goods demand, in addition to Nigeria. South Africa’s champagne consumption was 384,000 bottles in 2010.
Lere Awokoya, marketing manager, Moet Hennessy, Nigeria, agrees that Nigeria is the fastest growing market for champagne as the Moet brand has experienced a 12-percent growth in the Nigerian market year-on-year since 2011. “Figure is about right,” says Awokoya, “and we estimated about a 12-percent yearly increase in growth since 2011. This just means to us that the relationship between Nigeria and our brands is becoming more meaningful; we are very aware of that and consequently, we are doing what we can to maintain this growing relationship and make is a lasting one.”
Karan Keswani, manager, electronic division, Park ‘n’ Shop, says champagne is one of their largest alcohol products with the highest sales. A bottle of Moet and Chandon Nectar Imperial at the superstore is N13,760 while the Rose Imperial variant is sold at N12,140 per bottle.
A visit to the Tiamiyu Savage office of Ekulo Wine World shows that a bottle of Rose champagne is sold for N77,000, while Demi-set brand is N55,000 per bottle. Krug and Crystal brands fall among the most expensive, with a bottle going for N165,000 and N275,000, respectively.
Besides the champagne, Casa Del Habano is a hotspot on Friday and Saturday nights. Salsa and meringue music fills the club while dancers hit the dance floor to show off their moves. The price differs, but the value means much to the drinkers. Also a visit to Black Rock and Grill at K’s Place on Akin Adesola Street reveals another melting-point for champagne buffs. One thing is that they all appreciate sparkling wine served in tall, narrow-necked glasses called flutes. There, you will undergo lessons on how best to enjoy your champagne. One of the lessons is that using wide-brimmed glasses will cause the drink to quickly lose both bubbles and flavour.
That can only be learnt at an exclusive champagne bar, but at very exclusive price for the very sparkling wine. The Sky Restaurant on the 12th floor of Eko Hotel and Suites also offers unique champagne experience but at request, not as exclusive as the previous bars. There, the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean will add more excitement to your champagne evening outing. But the type and service determine how much you will cough out to enjoy the sparkle of the unique and somewhat world’s most celebrated and expensive wine.
Like the great Napoleon Bonaparte, lots of the aficionados drink champagne when they win, to celebrate, and when they lose, to console themselves. Apart from placing one in his/her rightful class, a visit to a champagne bar, according to Bunmi Olatunji, a food and beverage manager in a top Lagos hotel, provides exclusivity and quality timeout for those who care about such.
“There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne,” she says, noting further that a strictly champagne bar is a conference of people of same mind. However, as more hotels and restaurants spring up, champagne aficionados hope to do more of the ‘cork-popping’ thing in their own way at bars.
FUNKE OSAE-BROWN and OBINNA EMELIKE